Mexican pot campaigners take fight to Senate's doorstep

·3-min read

A thriving marijuana garden has become a symbol of a Mexican legalization campaign and an oasis for cannabis smokers -- right outside the Senate in the heart of the capital.

Activists created the small but flourishing Mexico City plot next to one of the entrances to the upper house of Congress in February to attract the attention of lawmakers.

Thanks to a combination of summer heat and abundant rain, the leafy green plants have grown to up to 2.5 meters (around eight feet) tall.

"The aim is to claim our rights as responsible consumers," Enrique Espinoza, a 30-year-old member of the Mexican Cannabis Movement, told AFP.

Around 20 young people lovingly tend the garden where they cook, make products with cannabis hemp and sometimes spend the night in a haze of smoke.

The movement has a strict bring-your-own-joint rule.

It is forbidden to harvest and smoke the plants, which are grown simply as a symbol of the fight for decriminalization.

- Tired of extortion -

A landmark Supreme Court ruling in 2015 opened the door to the recreational use of marijuana in Mexico.

But it is illegal to sell cannabis and each person may carry no more than five grams (0.18 ounces) -- something not always easy to verify during routine inspections.

"We began to organize ourselves because we're already fed up with police extorting and fining us," Espinoza said.

Attempts to increase the amount of marijuana people are allowed to carry have failed in Congress, which the courts gave until December 15 to legislate on the matter.

Congress approved the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes in 2017 after a two-year fight.

Nicolas Guerra, a 23-year-old deliveryman, has been using cannabis for four years to help his mental health.

"Marijuana and martial arts helped me reduce my neurosis," he said during a visit to the garden, where a dozen senators have come to speak with the activists since it was created.

"It's been my medicine and that's why I'm in favor of its legalization," Guerra added.

- Nothing to hide -

The campaigners' goal is for Mexico to follow in the footsteps of Uruguay, the world's first country to legalize marijuana.

Under a law passed in 2013, Uruguayan citizens and residents can buy up to 40 grams (1.4 ounces) of weed a month from pharmacies, or grow it themselves at home or as part of cannabis clubs.

According to the Uruguayan authorities, the move has led to a sharp drop in consumption of illegally produced cannabis.

Mexico, a country plagued by drug-related violence, has seized 185 tons of marijuana so far this year, more than any other drug.

Since the government militarized the fight against the powerful drug cartels in 2006, there have been 296,000 murders.

Leftist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who blames most of the killings on organized crime, has left open the possibility of legalizing some drugs as part of his security strategy. 

The activists say it is high time for change and see their garden as a bastion of freedom. 

"Why do we have to hide?" said Celeste, a 27-year-old courier enjoying a smoke next to her bicycle.


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